Keeping Fresh Flowers Fresher Longer
January 14, 2007

As more people get into the European habit of treating themselves to fresh flowers each week or “just for the fun of it,” many of us want to know the tricks Europeans use to keep fresh flowers fresher longer.

Enter the Dutch, the de facto floral experts of Europe. As now is prime time for spring bulb flowers, which are at peak availability January through April, these tips are offered for tulips – the top floral choice this time of year – by the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center in New York City. (For further information, visit their website,, see the section called “Cut & Potted Flowers.”)

Tight Buds + Some Color Showing = Long Life – For longest enjoyment, choose cut tulips with “tight buds.” Look for closed flowers showing color at the top, but still green at the base. Closed tulip buds will open up in the first few days in the vase. They will last a good week or more, with some help.

Avoid Buds Open Too Little/Too Much – Avoid bunches of tulips with buds too tightly closed or too fully wide open. Tulips that are totally green, with no flower color showing at all, may have been cut too early in growth and won’t ever fully open. On the other hand, tulips with buds too fully wide open have already brightened the days of folks in the shop, but their vase lifespan for you is reduced.

Clear those Pipes – Before placing tulips in a vase or arrangement, take a sharp knife and re-trim the stem tips, cutting at a slight angle. As stems essentially act as water uptake channels, you could say this quick step “clears the pipes” allowing tulips to drink in fresh water freely.

Enough Water, Not More – Tulips “drink” heavily and last longer if kept in cool clear fresh water. Experts suggest it is a good idea to give them just enough water in the vase, not more than the flowers might drink in one day or two. Fill vases approximately 1/3 full, providing the flowers plenty to drink but no more. Each day, top off the vase with fresh cool water. This technique makes life easy: the tulips drink up, you refill afresh with a continual supply of cool fresh water, no water sits letting bacteria grow, the flowers last longer with little fuss.

Eat Light, Drink Deep – Most cut flowers like cut flower food in the water. Tulips are the exception. Cool clear water is all they want. Topping off with fresh cold water every day or so is all the want to keep vigorous.

Tulips Stretch – Unlike most cut flowers, tulips keep growing in the vase. Plus, as they grow taller – often up to an inch – they tend to bend toward sources of light. This response to light is called phototropism.

Fancy Dancing, Dips and Dives – Most people fancy the unpredictable “dance” of the tulip as it moves, dips and dives in the vase due to the dual effects of its ever-lengthening stem and the gentle pull of light and gravity on the large flower head.

Now, Do the ‘Tighten Up’ – But some people want only straight stems, and no buts about it. If you wish to re-straighten tulip stems, simply remove the flowers from the vase, re-trim the stem tips then roll the tulips in newspaper with the paper extending above the flower tops but not covering the lower third of the stems. Place the wrapped bunch upright in a container holding cool water deep enough to submerge the exposed stems. Leave in a cool place for an hour or two. The tulips soon will be standing tall and straight!

Keep Cool – Temperature matters to cut flowers. For longest indoor flower life, keep tulips in a cool spot in the room – or move them to cool spots when you are not around for stretches of time (ie: when you are asleep, at work, etc). Remember to keep fresh flowers away from sources of heat, including televisions and computers.

Wild, Subtle, Jolly or Bold – Color is the tulip's strong suit. You can create a wild riot of color or more subtle monochromatic color combos such as purple with lavender, light yellow with deeper yellow. Flamed or multi-colored tulips look great mixed with solid color tulips in related shades.

Tulips as Partners – Tulips combine well with other flowers; they are particularly suited to pairings with the forced early spring branches of forsythia, pussy willows, and corkscrew willow found in the flower market in season.

Separate Quarters – If combining tulips with narcissi (daffodils), first treat the narcissi by trimming the stems and keeping them in a separate container of water for a few hours before adding them to your arrangement. This step allows a slimy alkaloid substance in the narcissi stems to run off. This sappy stuff, if allowed to leach out in the vase, can adversely affect other flowers, shortening their vase life.

Potted Bulbs for Instant Spring – Spring is also peak season for pots of forced tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses. Often called “bulblettes,” buy potted bulbs young and green with buds still tight, tighter than you would were they cut flowers. For a prettier look, slip bulbs in plastic nursery pots “as is” into similarly sized decorative containers. Potted bulbs can also be planted directly into outdoor containers, flower boxes and the garden for splashes of instant seasonal color.

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